A production company founded by former first couple Barack and Michelle Obama that was granted a massive contract with Netflix is taking legal action to save its name, “Higher Ground Productions” — a nod to Michelle’s famous line about when their enemies “go low, we go high.” But the lawyer for the much-less financially robust company in the Obamas’ crosshairs is decrying their legal team’s “deplorable behavior” and says the Obamas are failing to practice “the values they preach.”
On Aug. 20, Higher Grounds Productions, founded shortly after Obama left office, demanded the cancellation of another company’s earlier trademark, Higher Ground Enterprises, The Hollywood Reporter‘s Eriq Gardner reports.
“Higher Ground Enterprises is run by Hanisya Massey, who, according to her attorney Larry Zerner, is in the business of helping authors publish e-books. Her trademark is in Class 41, which includes entertainment services. Zerner says Massey has been using ‘Higher Ground’ since 2008,” Gardner explains. “Naturally, as the Obamas came to a lucrative agreement with Netflix for films and television series, Higher Ground Productions came into conflict with Higher Ground Enterprises.”
The couple contends that the two trademarks should be able to coexist, but a Trademark Examiner disagreed, maintaining that the names of the two companies and the services they offer are too similar. When the office refused to register the Higher Ground Productions mark on April 10, the Obamas chose to take further action, demanding the cancellation of the 2008-founded company’s trademark.
In response to Obamas’ cancellation demand, Zerner expressed disgust. “The Obamas have known for almost a year that their Higher Ground trademark application was rejected by the USPTO because it infringed my client’s rights,” he said in comments reported by THR. “Instead, of simply picking another name, the Obamas’ lawyers have now filed a meritless petition to cancel my client’s trademark so they can take it for themselves. This is really deplorable behavior. I hope that the Obamas realize that these actions are not consistent with the values they preach and that they instruct their attorneys to immediately dismiss the petition.”
In their failed initial bid to let both trademarks co-exist, the Obamas’ production company sent a letter to the Trademark Office, which, as Hot Air’s Karen Townsend puts it, “arrogantly implies it’s a distinction between a big, important entertainment deal with the former First Couple and a small business that promotes e-books.”
“[T]he consumers of ‘media production services’ covered by the Application are likely to be highly sophisticated,” the letter states, as reported by THR. “Media production services are generally offered not to individual consumers but to commercial entities and professionals in their field. Indeed, Applicant has entered a deal with Netflix in connection with its media production services. Such customers, whether multi-billion-dollar media companies or smaller commercial entities in need of media production services, will exercise the height of care in selecting a media production company and are highly unlikely to be confused by a photographer or e-book publisher — particularly when the other party uses a distinguishable mark.”
As reported by Deadline, in April, the Obamas unveiled their first slate of productions for Netflix, which includes “American Factory,” a film that “takes a deep dive into a post-industrial Ohio, where a Chinese billionaire opens a new factory in the husk of an abandoned General Motors plant and hires two thousand blue-collar Americans”; “Bloom,” a “drama series set in the world of fashion in post-WWII New York City that depicts barriers faced by women and by people of color in an era marked by hurdles but also tremendous progress,” and a feature film adaptation of “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom” by David W. Blight.